Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Contrived Community

Before modern chemistry was king, there was alchemy, an ancient science that sought, among other things, to change base metals like lead into precious gold. The eighth century alchemist, Jabir Ibn Hayyan, suggested that properly rearranging the hotness, coldness, dryness, and moistness of one metal would transform it into another kind of metal. Sounds silly from the viewpoint of modern science, doesn't it?

But in the 20th century, churches began attempting to engineer community in much the same way. By properly arranging location, building design, music production, speaking style, and other elements, it was thought that authentic community could be sparked into existence. Much of that belief still influences the churches we see today.

The glue that holds most modern church communities together is their carefully constructed array of programs. Sunday worship services, youth group meetings, Bible study classes, weekly small groups, etc. become the devices that connect people with each other in something that simulates meaningful relationships. But what happens when those programs falter or fail? Church-goers either disconnect from the program and the people it connected them to or stay in what quickly becomes a tangibly barren relational wasteland.

The lack of relational perseverance demonstrates how artificial that kind of experience is. For many who've never had authentic community, it seems a natural rhythm. Increasingly, however, people are sensing the engineered fabric and inauthenticity in such methods. Many of us are wising up to the plastic of contrived community and we're moving on. We've given up on hoping for gold from lead and have begun simply looking for gold wherever it can be found.


Alan Knox said...


This is a great post! "Community" - by definition, I think - is based on shared existence, and is only as strong as the foundation of that existence. I believe that Christian community should be based on the person of Jesus Christ as demonstrated by the koinonia that we have with one another in the Holy Spirit. This is a little stronger than programs or human personalities, I think.


Carl said...

I hope you dont mind, I enjoyed this article very much, I copied part of it in a post on my blog and pointed all to jump over here and check it out.

Thanks and keep writing.


Mark H said...

Great post John. Thanks :-)

more here

Adam Gonnerman said...

This post sheds light on some issues for me. The last American congregation I served (and I do mean LAST) suffered through a series of nasty fights and lost a lot of members before I came on the scene. There were arguments about church structure, the role of women, the plan of salvation and even a parting of the ways over a pile of rocks! The church had been very program-oriented with a strong vendor-mentality. Deep relationships and learning to work through disputes were obviously not a part of the picture with this church. When the show was over or being there was the least bit unpleasant, people left in droves.

What was left was a clique that was friendly towards visitors but who did not have the skills to include people fully. In reality, there were two cliques.

Revolutionary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duncan McFadzean said...

John, I found this really helpful. I'm involved with setting up a student (college students) ministry with our local church and I'm passionately trying to avoid "event-style" ministry, but I keep finding I get dragged back to it - either because people who've never seen anything else ask for it, or because it's the "easy" no-risk option for me.

I desire a relational community that just gets to know each other and encourage one another and build us all up - the key is how we facilitate that.

Thanks for the analogy.

John Lynch said...

Amen friends. By the way, Duncan, I'm eager to follow how you work that kingdom-community value out in your ministry context. I wonder if you might be willing to join Hungry & Thirsty as a contributor to spur on these community discussions from the vantage-point of your non-American context? If you send me your email ( I'd love to send you a blog invite.

Life & peace to you and all who are working through this most important of strategic subjects.